Chapter XXI. The Messengers
 

The return trip began promptly the following morning, and progressed uninterruptedly for two weeks. One by one they picked up the water-holes found on the journey out.

A few details had to be adjusted to compensate for Kingozi's lack of eyes. The matter of meat supplies, for example.

"Good luck I gave some attention to your shooting, old sportsman," he remarked to Simba in English, then in Swahili: "Here are five cartridges. Go get me a zebra and a kongoni."

Simba was no shot, but Kingozi knew he would stalk, with infinite patience and skill, fairly atop his quarry before letting off one of the precious cartridges.

In the matter of rhinoceros and similar dangers, they simply took a chance.

Kingozi marched at the end of a stick held by Simba. He gave his whole energies to getting over the day's difficulties of all sorts. His relations with the Leopard Woman swung back. Perhaps vaguely, in the back of his mind, he looked forward to the interpretation of that unpremeditated kiss; but just now a mixed feeling of responsibility and delicacy prevented his going forward from the point attained. During the march they walked apart most of the time. The weariness of forced travel abridged their evenings.

Chake walked guarded, and slept in chains.

Whenever the location of water-holes permitted, the safari made long jumps. The two messengers sent out with a scrawled letter to Doctor McCloud--whom they knew as Bwana Marefu--were of course far ahead. With any luck Kingozi hoped to meet the surgeon not far from the mountains where dwelt the sultani of the ivory stockade.

Thus the march went through a fortnight. The close of the fourteenth day found them camped near water in a donga. The dim blue of mountains had raised itself above the horizon ahead. This rejoiced the men. They were running low of potio, and they knew that from the sultani's subjects in these mountains a further supply could be had. As a consequence, an unwonted kalele was smiting the air. Each man chatted to his next-door neighbour at the top of his lungs, laughing loudly, squealing with delight. Kingozi sat enjoying it. He had been so long in Africa that this happy rumpus always pleased him. Suddenly it fell to silence. He cocked his ear, trying to understand the reason.

Across the open veldt two figures had been descried. They were coming toward the camp at a slow dogtrot; and as they approached it could be seen that save for a turban apiece they were stark naked; and save for a spear and a water gourd apiece they were without equipment. One held something straight upright before him, as medieval priests carried a cross. The turbans were formed from their blankets; mid-blade of each spear was wound with a strip of red cloth; the object one carried was a letter held in the cleft of a stick.

By these tokens the safari men knew the strangers to be messengers.

The mail service of Central Africa is slow but very certain. You give your letter to two reliable men and inform them that it is for Bwana So-and- so. Sooner or later Bwana So-and-so will get that letter. He is found by a process of elimination. In the bazaars the messengers inquire whether he has gone north, south, east, or west. Some native is certain to have known some of his men. So your messengers start west. Their progress thenceforward is a series of village visits. The gossip of the country directs them. Gradually, but with increasing certainty, their course defines itself, until at last--months later--they come trotting into camp.

These two jogged in broadly agrin. Cazi Moto and Simba led them at once to Kingozi's chair.

"These men bring a barua for you, bwana," said Cazi Moto.

Kingozi took the split wand with the letter thrust crosswise in the cleft.

"Who sent them?" he asked.

"The Bwana M'Kubwa[10], bwana."

[10: Bwana M'Kubwa--the great lord, i.e., the chief officer of any district.]

"Have they no message?"

"They say no message, bwana."

"Take them and give them food, and see that they have a place in one of the tents."

"Yes, bwana."

"And send Bibi-ya-chui to me."

The Leopard Woman sent word that she was bathing, but would come shortly. Kingozi sat fingering the letter, which he could not read. It was long and thick. He could feel the embossed frank of the Government Office. The situation was puzzling. It might contain secret orders, in which case it would be inadvisable to allow the Leopard Woman a sight of its contents. But Kingozi shook off this thought. At about the time he felt the cool shadow of the earth rise across his face as the sun slipped below the horizon, he became aware also by the faint perfume that the Leopard Woman had come.

"I am in a fix," he said abruptly. "Runners have just come in with this letter. It is official, and may be secret. I am morally certain you ought not to know its contents; but I don't see how I am to know them unless you do. Will you read it to me, and will you give me your word not to use its contents for your own or your government's purposes?"

She hesitated.

"I cannot promise that."

"Well," he amended after a moment, "you will stick to the terms of your other promise--that you will not attempt to leave my safari or send messages until we arrive."

"The fresh, even start," she supplied. "That promise is given."

He handed her the envelope.

A crackle of paper, then a long wait.

"I shall not read you this," she said finally in a strangled, suppressed voice.

"Why not?" he demanded sharply.

"It contains things I would not have you know."

He felt the paper thrust into his hands, reached for her wrists, and pinioned them. For once his self-control had broken. His face was suffused with blood and dark with anger.

But his speech was cut short by an uproar from the camp. Cries, shrieks, shouts, yells, and the sound of running to and fro steadily increased in volume. It was a riot.

In vain Kingozi called for Cazi Moto and Simba. Finally he grasped his kiboko and started in the direction of the disturbance. The Leopard Woman sprang to his side, and guided him. He laid about him blindly with the kiboko, and in time succeeded in getting some semblance of order.

"Cazi Moto! Simba!" he shouted angrily.

"Bwana?" "Sah?" two panting voices answered.

"What is this?"

They both began to speak at once.

"You, Cazi Moto," commanded Kingozi.

"These men are liars," began Cazi Moto.

"What men?"

"These men who brought the barua. They tell lies, bad lies, and we beat them for it."

"Since when have you beaten liars? And since when have I ceased to deal punishment? And since when has it been permitted that such a kalele be raised in my camp?" pronounced Kingozi coldly. "For attending to such things you are my man; and Simba is my man; and Mali-ya-bwana is my man; and Jack is my man. Because you have done these things I fine you six rupees each one."

"Yes, bwana," said Cazi Moto submissively.

"These other men--what manner of 'lie' do they tell? Bring them here."

The messengers were produced.

"What is it you tell that my men beat you for telling lies? They must be bad lies, for it is not the custom of men to beat men for telling lies."

"We tell no lies, bwana" said one of the messengers earnestly. "We tell the truth."

"What is it you tell?"

"We said what has happened: that across the Serengetti came white men from the country of Taveta, and that these white men were many, and had many askaris with them, and our white men from Nairobi met them, and fought so that those from Taveta were driven back and some were killed. And down the N'Gouramani River many of our white men with Mahindi[11] fought with strange white men on a hill below Ol Sambu, but were driven off. And many Mahindi are coming in to Mombasa, all with guns, and all the askaris are brought into Nairobi. And we told these safari men that the white men were making war on the white men, so they cried out at this, and beat us."

[Footnote 11: Mahindi--East Indians.]

Kingozi had listened attentively.

"Well, Cazi Moto?" he demanded.

"But this is a lie; a bad lie," said Cazi Moto, "to say that white men make war on white men!"

"Nevertheless it is true," rejoined Kingozi quietly. "These other white men are the Duyches[12], and they make war."

[Footnote 12: Duyches--Germans.]

He turned and walked back to his camp unassisted. He groped for his chair and sat down. His hand encountered the letter.

"You do not need to read this to me now," he told the Leopard Woman quietly. "I know what it tells." He thought a moment. "It is clear to me now. You knew, this war was to be declared."

She did not reply.

"You know about when this war was to be declared," he pursued his thought. "Yes, it fits."

Her silence continued.

"You should have killed me," he thought aloud. "That alone could have accomplished your mission properly. You might have known I would make you go back, too. Or perhaps you thought you could command your own men in spite of me?"

"Perhaps," she said unexpectedly.

He raised his voice:

"Cazi Moto!"

The chastened headman came running.

"To-morrow," Kingozi told him, "the men go on half potio. There will be plenty of meat but only half potio."

"Yes, bwana."

"And if any man grumbles, or if any man objects even one word to what I do or where I go, bring him to me at once. Understand?"

"Yes, bwana."

"Bassi."

"What is it you intend to do now?" asked the Leopard Woman curiously.

"Go back, of course."

"Back--where?"

"To M'tela."

She gasped.

"But you cannot do that! You have not considered; you have not thought."

He shrugged his shoulders.

"But it means blindness; blindness for always!"

"I know my duty."

"But to be blind, to be blind always; never to see the sun, the wide veldt, the beasts, and the birds! Never to read a book, to see a man's face, a woman's form; to sit always in darkness waiting--you cannot do that!"

He winced at her words but did not reply. Her hands fluttered to his shoulders.

"Please do not do this foolishness," she pleaded softly; "it is not worth it! See, I have given my word! If you had thought I would go ahead of you to M'tela, all that danger is past. A fresh start, you said it yourself. Do you think I would deceive you?"

She was hovering very close to him; he could feel her breath on his cheek. Firmly but gently he took her two wrists and thrust her away from him.

"Listen, my dear," he said gently, "this is a time for clear thinking. My country is at war with Germany; and my whole duty is to her. You are an Austrian."

"My country, too, is at war," she said unexpectedly.

"Ah, you knew that would happen, too," he said after a startled pause. "I know only this: that if in times of peace it was important to my government that M'tela's friendship be gained, it is ten times as important in time of war. I must go back and do my best."

"But why?" she interjected eagerly. "This savage tribe--it is in the remote hinterland; it knows nothing of the white man or the white man's quarrels. What difference can it make?"

"That is not my affair. For one thing, he is on the border."

"But what difference of that? The border means nothing. The fate of their colonies will be fought in Europe, not here. What happens to this country depends on who wins there below."

"Can you state positively of your own knowledge that no invasion or movement of German troops is planned across M'tela's country? On your sacred word of honour?" propounded Kingozi suddenly.

"On my word of honour," she repeated slowly, "no such movement."

"Do you know what you are talking about?"

She was silent.

"It doesn't sound reasonable--an invasion from that quarter--what could they gain either on that side or on this?" Kingozi ruminated. A sudden thought struck him. "And that there is no reason whatever, from my point of view as a loyal British subject, against my going out at this time? On your word?"

"Oh!" she cried distressedly, "you ask such questions! How can I answer----"

He stopped her with grave finality.

"That is sufficient. I go back."

She did not attempt to combat him.

"I have done my duty, too," she said dully. "Mine is not the Viennese conscience. My parole; I must take that back. From to-morrow I take it back."

"I understand. I am sorry. To-morrow I place my guard."

"Oh, why cannot you have the sense?" she cried passionately. "I cannot bear it! That you must be blind! That I must kill you if I can, once more!"

Kingozi smiled quietly to himself at this confession.

"So you would even kill me?" he queried curiously.

"I must! I must! If it is necessary, I must! I have sworn!"

"Don't you suppose I shall take precautions?"

"Oh, I hope so! I do hope so!" she cried.

Her distress was so genuine, her unconsciousness of the anomaly of her attitude so naive that Kingozi forbore even to smile.

"I must go on," he concluded simply.